Shike – Day 25 of 306

“These rebels, Your Highness, are they the Muratomo?” Taniko asked. “You must forgive my country ignorance, but I do not know.”

“Women are not expected to know anything, my dear,” said Horigawa.

Taniko resisted an urge to throw her candle at him. Instead she said, “But I find you so fascinating, Your Highness, that I cannot help but be interested in the world in which you move.” The fact was that it was only his connection with high places and great political matters that made the thought of marriage to him at all bearable.

“Very nicely put,” said Horigawa, rising to his feet. “On future visits I shall explain as much of matters of state as your female intelligence seems capable of grasping. Meanwhile, be assured that we are doing everything necessary to maintain the safety of the realm. More blood will have to be shed. We must deal mercilessly with rebels. We must be as fierce as were our ancestors of old Yamato. Many, many heads will fall.”

A chill went through Taniko. She sensed that this pompous creature’s feeble frame harboured a thirst for blood almost unnatural in its intensity. As a daughter of samurai she had known many professional fighting men, and none of them had spoken as lovingly of mass slaughter as did this scholarly government official.

She placed her hands on the floor and bowed. “It is an honour to be courted by a man of such greatness.”

Tying his tall black hat under his chin, Horigawa turned and let Taniko raise the blinds for him so he could step out on the veranda and thence into the Shima garden, thus preserving the ritual secrecy of his visit.

When he was gone, Taniko turned to find her aunt was already back in the room with towels and a pot of hot water. Taniko sank to her knees and put her face in her hands. Her body shook with racking sobs. Aunt Chogao knelt beside her and put her arms around her.

“Was it that bad for you, my dear?”

“Aunt, I can’t go through with it. I can’t.”

Chogao patted her shoulder. “You have to. Your father commands it. Your family needs this marriage.” She stroked Taniko’s hair. “I know it’s hard. What you have to do is harder than anything I’ve had to do. I was married to a man with whom it is very easy for me to live. But you, because you must do the more difficult thing, will be the nobler person.”

“I can’t. I don’t want to.”

Chogao moved so that she was facing Taniko, her normally cheerful features suffused by burning seriousness. “You are samurai. What you feel does not matter. If you were a man, you would go to war and die. It would not matter that you were terrified of death, that you wanted to live. It would be your duty to your family. Do not women have as much courage as men? We give our lives, too, by marrying as we are required and bearing the children that are needed. Didn’t your mother teach you these things?”

“Yes,” said Taniko in a small voice.

“Then never forget them. If you do not live your life as a samurai, it is not worth living. Now lie back, my dear, and let me wash you. That miserable man. He should have spent the whole night with you and left at dawn. What sort of lover does he think he is? Oh, well, I suppose, considering his age and all the work he does, that’s the most you can expect. He certainly doesn’t have much fire left over for women, does he?”

Closing her eyes, grateful that Horigawa had left her as quickly as he did, Taniko said, “I want nothing more from him.”

“Good, my dear. Be content with your lot. That, too, is the way of a true samurai.”

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

My future husband’s next-morning letter was cliched and perfunctory, and his love poem was copied straight out of the Kokinshu. The prince must think we have no books in Kamakura. Even my aunt, who keeps trying to persuade me to accept this marriage, made a sour face when she read his effort. But the letter and the poem mean he intend to continue courting me, and that is what the family wants.

In the bleakness of these days my greatest pleasure is my conversations with Moko. I have convinced my aunt and uncle that Moko is an expert carpenter whom I brought with me from Kamakura at my father’s suggestion. My father will never know the difference. Fortunately, there are plenty of repairs needed around this house, and every day, pretending to give Moko instructions, I learn the news he has picked up in the street.

Samurai crowd the streets of Heian Kyo, swaggering about with their long swords. They accost people and demand to know if one is a supporter of the Takashi or the Muratomo. Such encounters lead to blows and sometimes to bloodshed, though both the Takashi clan chieftain, Sogamori, and the Muratomo clan chieftain, Domei, claim to deplore all disorder. There has not been any rioting as bad as that of the night I arrived here.

It was as though the riot in my soul that night was reflected in the streets of the city.

There was a full moon, too. That may have had something to do with it.

Moko reports that Domei has been heard to repeat the old Confucian saying, “A warrior may not remain under the same heaven with the slayer of his father.” Since Prince Horigawa appears to be chief among those responsible for the execution of Domei’s father, it is possible that I may find myself a widow soon after I am married.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)